Monday, February 1, 2016

Who Carries The 2016 Twins?

It's just February, but making predictions far after things play out isn't much of a leap. With Twins Fest now in the books, and the next big event for the club being Spring Training, it's time to take a look at what lies ahead. The Diamond Awards recently acknowledged the best of the organization for the year that was. This is a stab at who ends up being recognized for a great 2016 season.

Bounce Back Pitcher Of The Year- Alex Meyer

Few players had a more rough 2015 season than Meyer. After being Baseball Prospectus' 14th rated prospect, things went incredibly downhill for the former Kentucky Wildcat. He transitioned to a full time relief role, and his debut in the big leagues lasted all of two games.

In his second year at Triple-A Rochester, Meyer posted a 4.79 ERA (over a run worse than 2014), along with another increased walk rate (4.7 BB/9). Meyer actually kept the ball in the yard more often (just 4 HR allowed as opposed to 10 in 2014), but issued far too many free passes. He continued to strike out a healthy amount of batters however, posting a 9.8 K/9.

Entering 2016, Meyer should have a legitimate shot to compete for the Opening Day bullpen. He's got stuff that should play up even more in relief, and could prove to stabilize a shaky Twins pen. Deserving of a September call-up that didn't come, Meyer posted a 0.46 ERA in his final nine games of 2015 (19.2 IP). Across those frames, he allowed opposing hitters to slash a paltry .174/.275/.188 off of him. I believe Meyer is going to see things click in the year ahead, and everyone will be better for it.

Bounce Back Hitter Of The Year- Oswaldo Arcia

If there's something that Arcia is going to offer the Twins, it's absolutely going to have to come with his bat. An abomination in the outfield, Arcia has now been surpassed on the positional depth chart by infield transplant Miguel Sano. Out of options however, the Twins will no doubt include Arcia on the 25 man roster.

A season ago, the slugging Venezuelan saw action in just 19 big league games. Over that time, albeit a small sample size, he posted his best average (.276) and on-base percentage (.338). He's a year removed from a 20 home run season, and that's something the Twins need him to get back to. Outside of a torrid home run stretch at Triple-A, Arcia slashed an ugly .199/.257/.372.

Expect Minnesota to give Arcia every chance to prove it. Just 24 years old, and still with plenty of power, Arcia's potential remains too much to give up on. He should see the field in limited action behind Sano, and the biggest key needs to be plate discipline. After swinging and missing far too often early on, a heightened contact rate could immediately push him back into the conversation among the Twins best young assets.

Minor League Pitcher Of The Year- Stephen Gonsalves

A season ago, the award went to the Twins top pitching prospect, Jose Berrios. It's Gonsalves who could end up stealing the spotlight from the likes of Tyler Jay and Kohl Stewart in 2016 however. Likely slated to start his year at High-A Fort Myers, expecting him to stay there long is probably a fool's wish.

Through his three year professional career, Gonsalves has advanced two levels each season. After dominating Low-A Cedar Rapids to the tune of a 1.15 ERA in 2015, Gonsalves followed that up with a 2.61 ERA at High-A. His strikeout rate dipped considerably after his promotion (12.6 K/9 at A 6.2 K/9 at A+), but that could be attributed to an adjustment period.

Now 21 years old, I wouldn't be at all surprised if Gonsalves took a path similar to Berrios in the year ahead. A short stint at Fort Myers, followed by the bulk of the season being played at Chattanooga, and then a finale for Rochester would make a decent amount of sense. As a lefty who is far more dominant than crafty,. Gonsalves is continually pushing his ceiling, and he's begun to garner some serious national attention.

Minor League Hitter Of The Year- Jorge Polanco

Looking at the state of Twins positional prospects, the farm system has all but flipped the script. A year ago it was the offensively contributing prospects that debuted at Target Field. In 2016, pitching becomes the focal point with hitters left to emerge on their own. I expect Polanco to do exactly that.

Starting at Double-A Chattanooga in 2015, Polanco turned in a solid .289/.346/.393 slash line. He flashed some power launching six homers, and his extra base ability was witnessed in his 17 doubles. Although there's some very real questions about whether or not Polanco will ever play the field good enough to not be a liability, his bat appears all but ready.

I have some serious concerns about Polanco getting bored on the farm, and stunting his development in the very near future. Blocked by Brian Dozier and without a true path to get to the big leagues regularly, forcing the Twins hand with his bat seems like a good bet. Whether or not Polanco becomes expendable remains to be seen, but I'm going to bet on him to hit in the year ahead.

MLB Pitcher Of The Year- Kyle Gibson

I went back and forth on this one for a while, as I believe Trevor May is going to truly be something special out of the bullpen. My selection of Gibson though is a testament to the step up I see him making in the year ahead. Gibson was already good in 2015, but 2016 should see him become great.

After posting a sub 4.00 ERA (3.84) and a 6.7 K/9 (career high) last season, Gibson has set the bar pretty high. He should be capable of driving that ERA down even further, and while the strikeouts may slip some, he's going to be really good. A late-bloomer due to injury, Gibson is entering his prime and set to do some impressive things during it. The former first round pick has the ability to push towards the top of the rotation, and the Twins will no doubt be better for it.

At the conclusion of the 2016 season, suggesting Gibson as the staff ace even with a good year from both Ervin Santana and Phil Hughes wouldn't be crazy. Again, I really like Trevor May in the bullpen, but I expect 2016 to be something impressive from the former Missouri Tiger.

MLB Hitter Of The Year- Trevor Plouffe

At different points during the conclusion of the 2015 season and into the offseason, it appeared as though the Twins may move on from their third basemen. With Miguel Sano needing to play the field somewhere, Plouffe trending towards being expendable. Thankfully that didn't happen, and the Twins retained one of their most talented players.

After agreeing to a one-year deal, Plouffe could end up having the Twins wish they would have went the extension route. In 2015, he posted career highs in runs, hits, triples, RBI, and games played. He hit over 20 homers for the first time since 2012, and he was a catalyst to an improved Minnesota offense. That might have been a mirage, but a better bet is that it was a sign of things to come.

Entering his year 30 season, Plouffe could do a bit more in the year ahead. He's a double machine, and the power should continue to be there. Pushing his slugging percentage back towards the .450 mark isn't unreasonable, and the added pop around him in the lineup should only help him. Look for Plouffe to once again help pace the Twins offense in the year ahead.

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